Hot or Not

NFL Hot or Not: Steelers soar; Carson Wentz struggles

With Week 2 in the books, Marc Sessler dishes on what's hot -- and what's not -- in the NFL:

WHAT'S HOT

  • It was chic to question the Steelers. Coming off a 2019 campaign that saw Pittsburgh lay a perfectly bland 8-8 egg, eyes wandered to more alluring AFC fare. Baltimore and Kansas City were dressed up in the finest linens, while the Steelers fielded verbal darts about their quarterback's hobo beard and potentially muted arm. CUT TO SEPTEMBER: Ben Roethlisberger is now firing lasers to a cast of gems while Pittsburgh's defense crumples opponents into muck. The Broncos were a fanciful notion until the Steelers dispatched Drew Lock and put the clamps on backup Jeff Driskel in a 26-21 scattering. Generating the highest pressure rate of any defense around, T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward and Bud Dupree fronted a unit that dropped Denver for seven sacks while forcing multiple pressures on every Broncos lineman. On offense, Big Ben's live arm found help in the form of rookie pass-catcher Chase Claypool, yet another Kevin Colbert-unearthed prize, who reeled in an 84-yard catch-and-run touchdown off a pristine lob. Disregarded all offseason, the 2-0 Steelers are standing right in front of you as one of the AFC's juiciest rocket ships.
  • Big Ben's been doing it since 2004. Justin Herbert's been doing it since Sunday at 1:25 p.m. PT. That's when the ex-Oregon luminary was thrust into the Chargers' lineup as QB1 after Tyrod Taylor suffered a chest injury in warmups. Just like that, Herbert, the soft-spoken, lost-in-the-forest rookie from Hard Knocks, found himself in a battle with Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs passer who seemingly came to us from another dimension altogether. Herbert didn't shrink, instead surely winning over his teammates with his first pro touchdown, a 4-yard dash to the right pylon. His second came on a powerful shot to wideout Jalen Guyton. Herbert used his 6-foot-6 frame to deliver the ball over trench-bound behemoths for 300-plus yards on the day -- and he used his legs to keep the Chiefs guessing. "He played his tail off," Mahomes said of Herbert. "Our defense shows a lot of different coverages, a lot of different looks, and for him to be able to move the ball down the field and get points on the board, he did a great job." This development is scenery-altering for a Chargers team striving to win over the few remaining Angelenos still searching for a favorite football squad.
  • Herbert's happy start stands out as the most exciting development for the Chargers since Derwin James detonated Lamar Jackson and the Ravens two Januarys ago. They can't afford to mess this up. It's concerning to hear coach Anthony Lynn insist Taylor will remain the starter "if he's 100 percent ready to go." We all dig Tyrod. Lynn's loyalty is noted, too, but the future has arrived. Taylor is the classic bridge veteran, carrying us over the rushing brook to uncharted lands beyond. That bridge lasted two-plus games in Cleveland before Taylor gave way to Baker Mayfield in 2018. It lasted one in Los Angeles. You don't hire Tyrod Taylor to start 16 games for you in 2020. You sign him up to do what he does best: serve as your unquestioned starter all offseason before morphing into a portal -- a magic doorway -- come September. An entrance for your first-round quarterback to waltz through, just as Baker did. And now Herbert. For a franchise working to find a foothold in its own city, Lynn must ask himself: How do I best tug this team into tomorrow? How do I capture hearts? I'd start Herbert on Sunday at home against a Panthers defense crammed with newbie starters ... and I'd never look back. 
  • Sunday Night Football has fed us stellar morsels out of the gate. Cowboys-Rams capped last week's fare as one of the cleanest clashes around. Sunday evening's tilt between the Seahawks and Patriots served as an early candidate for game of the year. Russell Wilson's magnificence stole the show in a 35-30 jewel, but he wasn't alone: The night doubled as a showcase of coaching brilliance between Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick. They roam as ideal foils. In one corner: the gum-chewing, youthful Carroll, strutting along the sideline with a sparkle in his eye. Across the way: Belichick. His piercing eyes partly obscured by an ill-fitting mask, his brain on overdrive to counteract Wilson's exploits with a heavy dose of unlikely bedfellow Cam Newton. I can't help but draw enjoyment from this Patriots team, always the product of next-level coaching. It might feel typical if your favorite club is coached by John Harbaugh or Sean Payton, but for those stuck in a romance with discombobulated outfits who turn Sundays into a circus of roaming fools, Belichick's team just LOOKS DIFFERENT. 
  • From the same game: Tom Brady helped shape him, but Julian Edelman is twice as intriguing post-TB12. In an offense searching for weapons, the Patriots quarterback-turned-wideout piled up a career-high 179 yards off eight catches against Seattle. With Newton latching on to his favorite target, Edelman fought off defenders, won contested grabs and accounted for six catches of 15-plus yards, the most by any player in a game this season. Edelman couldn't hang on to a potential game-winner from Cam, but the chemistry between quarterback and receiver is frisky.
  • Big ups to the Jaguars, who were snickered at when promising they had zero desire to tank away the year. No quit is evident in Gardner Minshew, who gave the Titans a fight in Jacksonville's 33-30 loss. The second-year quarterback -- largely dismissed as a patch until Trevor Lawrence lands -- sits fourth league-wide in completion percentage (75.4) and, bottom line, looks like a starter. A compelling fit in Jay Gruden's offense, Minshew on Sunday refused to die. Staring at a 24-10 deficit, the Jaguars passer authored three straight touchdown drives before an ill-fated interception ended Jacksonville's quest with 47 ticks on the clock. Minshew Mania was an enjoyable diversion in 2019, but the hubbub doubled as a disservice: Many couldn't peer past the hair, shades and 'stache to see the dug-in player. His sixth-round pedigree fueled another wave of doubters, but Minshew keeps flinging fire. If he were any of the struggling first-round passers of late, the praise would shower down. Instead, he's just outplaying those guys in an offense most considered a corpse two weeks ago.
  • Around the NFL producer Erica Tamposi, a noted Patriots Head, believes this is one of the hottest moments ever captured on camera:

WHAT'S NOT

  • Baseball writers sit on a tough beat. The typical 162-game season is an elongated, monotonous slog peppered with hundreds of travel days. It's known by some as the Divorce Beat, with scribes on the road for weeks at a time, keeping odd hours, sleeping in weird motel rooms and living out of sync with a potentially agitated spouse. By comparison, old-school writers view the NFL campaign as a quick shot into winter. The football season still feels plenty lengthy to this typist, one reason I'm not ready to dump Carson Wentz off at the next stop. The concern, though, is justified. The Eagles quarterback is seeing ghosts after absorbing eight sacks against Washington in the opener before fizzling out in Sunday's 37-19 loss to the Rams. The defeat was especially grisly as Los Angeles soared behind stellar play from Jared Goff, the quarterback taken one spot ahead of Wentz in the 2016 NFL Draft. Badgered by critics a year ago, Goff is reborn in a new version of Sean McVay's offense featuring playmaking tight ends, a productive stable of runners and a heavy dose of moving pockets and bootleg action. Wentz, by comparison, threw a killer end-zone pick that compelled Philly's mischievous sound crew to pump in boos over an empty Lincoln Financial Field. The roster is banged up, but Wentz was well-protected on Sunday. His 20 off-target throws this season led the league heading into Monday night, with 15 of those lobs coming from a clean pocket. Plenty of time to course-correct, but who will stop the bleeding?
  • CONSPIRACY THEORY: Lodged inside the NFL's super-secretive schedule-making department sits a phantom menace who, for some reason, despises the Texans. This individual wields immense power with zero designs on mercy, shipping Houston into a lake of fire to start the season with back-to-back dates against Kansas City and Baltimore. Maybe Bill O'Brien once toilet-papered this guy's house back in the early '80s -- totally unknown -- but winless Houston's next to-do is flying into Pittsburgh to fend off the butt-kicking Steelers.
  • Speaking of rough-and-tumble matchups, Week 3's bout between the Niners and Giants forces San Francisco back onto the same MetLife field that doubled as a house of horrors in Sunday's Pyrrhic prevailing over the floating Jets. The carnage reads like a poem of doom, led by star pass-rusher Nick Bosa being lost for the year with a torn ACL. QB Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a high ankle sprain and couldn't finish the game. Defensive lineman Solomon Thomas saw his own ACL give out. Raheem Mostert unfurled an 80-yard scoring dash but later crumpled with a sprained MCL. Come Sunday, the Niners will face a now faceless G-Men roster after centerpiece runner Saquon Barkley suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 2. New York also lost wideout Sterling Shepard to a banged-up toe. The Panthers could be without tantalizing do-everything back Christian McCaffrey for up to six weeks, while the Broncos aren't half as interesting with Drew Lock (shoulder) out for a spell and wideout Courtland Sutton on the shelf with a torn ACL. In Indy, safety Malik Hooker is kaput after shredding his Achilles tendon, while wideout Parris Campbell remains a question mark after battering his knee in a win over the Vikings. Do we even need to mention that Houston's Will Fuller is dealing with a hammy? The football gods must be fed grapes and pampered, pronto!
  • The upshot of all this physical calamity? Careers are impacted, little-known names are thrust into the spotlight and new stories are told. There's still one story, though, that literally nobody cares about: the health of your fantasy football lineup. Be an adult and keep these worries to yourself. (… That said, I am closely monitoring this Mostert situation. He's been the ideal flex for me, and I'm feeling slight anxiety over his potential absence in Week 3. I'll sort it out, but might need to hit the late-night waiver wire to pick up a body -- hopefully someone who fits the makeup of my team and won't disrupt the locker room, you know what I mean?)

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